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Showing posts from January, 2016

Cracking cases with nuclear forensics

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Specialized team uses nuclear forensics to solve mysteries and safeguard materials
A group of nuclear detectives at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory takes on tough challenges, from detecting illicit uranium using isotopic "fingerprints" to investigating Presidential assassination conspiracies.
"A very big capability at Oak Ridge exists for nuclear analytics, all the way from helping commercial production of nuclear power to making sure the world's nuclear materials are properly accounted for," said ORNL's Joseph Giaquinto, leader of the Nuclear Analytical Chemistry and Isotopics Laboratories, or NACIL. "My group is a specialized analytical group. We focus in the nuclear arena, from nuclear fuels R&D to nuclear forensics and safeguarding nonproliferation."

From the Manhattan Project in the 1940s to the High Flux Isotope Reactor's 50th anniversary and its selection as an American Nuclear Society Nuclear Historic Lan…

Eyewitness identification reforms may have unintended consequences

Eyewitness identification reforms  may have unintended consequences
Research by a University of California, Riverside psychologist raises serious questions about eyewitness identification procedures that are being adopted by police departments across the United States.  These new procedures are designed to reduce the kinds of false identification errors that can lead to wrongful convictions of innocent people.
While it has long been held that these changes reduce false identifications with little or no loss of correct identifications, UC Riverside psychology professor Steven E. Clark suggests that that is not the case.

The loss of correct identifications can be significant, Clark says. Importantly, the new procedures may, under some circumstances, lead to identification evidence that is less accurate than the identification evidence from the procedures they are designed to replace. Policymakers need to look very carefully at the data from empirical studies as they consider adopting new …

How we get directions wrong

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Ever had the experience of receiving details instructions on how to do something, then get it mixed up and confused?

According to this research out of the University of Kyoto, this confusion may be due to the way our brain maintains our preconceived ideas.  Our preconceived ideas are hard to shake, so we end up mixing up our preconceptions with the instructions.  Result?  Confusion.

So how does this apply to writers?  Suppose you're writing a murder mystery, and your bad guy has an accomplice who is given specific instructions on setting up the bad guy's alibi.  Your detective can't break the bad guy.  But the accomplice?  Did he do exactly as instructed?  Or did he make a mistake?

Or perhaps you're developing an action-adventure plot.  The main character must rely on others to accomplish something.  Given this research, it's natural and normal for someone to intermix instructions with their own preconceived ideas.  Result?  The plan goes wrong.

Here's the report w…

Write standing: It worked for Woolf. Hemingway. Roth. Why not you?

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Søren Kierkegaard wrote standing.

As did Charles Dickens.

And Winston Churchill.

Philip Roth.

Add to that Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf.

Plus Ernest Hemingway.

What are we waiting for?
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New study indicates students' cognitive  functioning improves when using standing desks
Do students think best when on their feet? New findings provide the first evidence of neurocognitive benefits of stand-height desks in classrooms. These findings provide the first evidence of neurocognitive benefits of stand-height desks in classrooms, where students are given the choice to stand or sit based on their preferences.
Ranjana Mehta, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, researched freshman high school students with who used standing desks. Testing was performed at the beginning and again at the end of their freshman year.
Through using an experimental design, Mehta explored the neurocognitive benefits using four computerized tests to assess executive funct…

How to use eyewitness identifications: Cautiously

As a science geek, I do watch the many true-crime shows, especially those that rely on forensic science to identify and convict culprits.  But as this latest series of reports indicate, the science isn't perfect, in fact in some cases, the science is plainly flawed.

Fortunately, researchers and defense attorneys are aware of the flaws and can use this information to help protect the truly innocent.

Here's another report on a flaw in forensics with suggestions on how to correctly us eyewitness testimony.  The full report is available in the attribution line.
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Using eyewitness identifications:  New report urges caution
A new report from the National Research Council recommends best practices that law enforcement agencies and courts should follow to improve the likelihood that eyewitness identifications used in criminal cases will be accurate. Science has provided an increasingly clear picture of the inherent limits in human visual perception and memory that can lead to er…

Forensic sciences 'fraught with error'

Forensic sciences are 'fraught with error'
"People tend to seek, perceive, interpret, and create new  evidence in ways that verify their preexisting beliefs."
Researchers review various high-profile false convictions and provide an overview of classic psychological research on expectancy and observer effects and indicates in which ways forensic science examiners may be influenced by information such as confessions, eyewitness identification, and graphical evidence.
A target article recently published in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (JARMAC) reviews various high-profile false convictions. It provides an overview of classic psychological research on expectancy and observer effects and indicates in which ways forensic science examiners may be influenced by information such as confessions, eyewitness identification, and graphical evidence.

Objective evidence is actually subjective
The target article authors, Saul Kassin and Jeff Kukucka, of John Jay C…

Bite-mark analysis can lead to false convictions

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Bite-mark analysis can lead to false convictions
Since 2000, at least 25 people convicted on bite-mark evidence  have been exonerated due to advances in DNA testing.
Forensic science is a vital crime-fighting tool in today's criminal justice system. But it can also lead to false convictions, according to H. David Sheets, PhD. Landmark research by the Canisius College physics professor proves that bite-mark analysis is "far from an exact science."
Bite-mark analysis compares the teeth of crime suspects to bite-mark patterns on victims. Historically, forensic odontologists (dentists who provide forensic dental identifications in criminal investigations and mass disasters) operate under two general guidelines when interpreting bite-mark evidence. First, that everyone's dental impression is unique to the individual, "similar to fingerprints," Sheets explains. Second, that human skin -- the most common material on which a bite mark is inflicted -- reliably records …

Why superstitions are hard to shake

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The power of magical thinking: Why superstitions are hard to shake
When sports fans wear their lucky shirts on game day, they know it is irrational to think clothing can influence a team's performance. But they do it anyway.  Even smart, educated, emotionally stable adults believe in superstitions they recognize are unreasonable.
In a paper from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Review, Associate Professor Jane Risen finds that even when people recognize that their belief does not make sense, they can still allow that irrational belief to influence how they think, feel and behave.

In "Believing What We Don't Believe: Acquiescence to Superstitious Beliefs and Other Powerful Intuitions," Risen contends that detecting an irrational thought and correcting that error are two separate processes, not one as most dual-system cognitive models assume. This insight explains how people can detect irrational th…

Religious beliefs don't always lead to violence

Yesterday, a woman in Muslim garb was escorted out of a political rally sponsored by a leading candidate for office - for the only reason of her clothing.  As she exited, she was loudly booed and subjected to intolerant cat-calls.
Not a pretty event.
Is there a better way?  Can we learn to be more tolerant of other's political, ethnic, and religious views?
According to these two reports, the answer is yes, and that the solution is within us.
Read the reports of these studies, and consider how reviewing your own religious or ethical beliefs can change the way you respond to people of a different race or that hold different views than yourself.
Here are the reports, with links to the full studies in the attributions. *  *  *  *  *
Religious beliefs don't always lead to violence Study shows thinking from God's perspective can reduce bias against others
From the Christian Crusades to the Paris attacks, countless conflicts and acts of violence have been claimed to be the result of diffe…

Reading Fiction: Zoning out or deep thinking?

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Zoning out or deep thinking?
Reading stories about values you hold sacred activates a part of your brain once thought to be used for zoning out. The researchers suggest that these results were gained not just because the brain is presented with a moral quandary, but rather that the quandary is presented in a narrative format.
Everyone has at least a few non-negotiable values. These are the things that, no matter what the circumstance, you'd never compromise for any reason -- such as "I'd never hurt a child," or "I'm against the death penalty."

Real-time brain scans show that when people read stories that deal with these core, protected values, the "default mode network" in their brains activates.

Working to find meaning in narratives
This network was once thought of as just the brain's autopilot, since it has been shown to be active when you're not engaged by anything in the outside world -- but studies like this one suggest that it'…

Understanding your character's sixth-sense for danger: Here's how it works.

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Characters having a sixth-sense for danger borders on cliché, a trope even.

Yet, many if not most clichés are a statement of the obvious.  We as humans do have a sixth sense for danger, and as with most characteristics some of us have a sharper sense of impending danger, and some have less.

Researchers in France are investigating the relationship between this sixth-sense and anxiety, how it functions in different people, and when it is a healthy reaction and when it's not.

Is this sixth-sense extra-sensory?  Not from what I understand about brain science.  Significant research using fMRI and other technology reveals that most processing in our brain takes place out of the notice of our conscious mind, and alerts us to a potential threat in far less time than our conscious mind can register.

So when a section of our brain notes an angry look on the face of someone staring directly at us in a social situation, we feel anxious.  This is our subconscious mind alerting us to potential dang…